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David Bokovoy

Agency In Lds Scripture

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RBoylan    36

It is an excellent article, David, as with all your other works I own/have read (e.g., Testaments; your review of Heiser, etc). Keep up the good work!

--your no.1 Irish fan ;-)

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zerinus    301

For those interested, my first contribution to the academic site Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable has been posted as of today. The site is well worth exploring and features contributions from various well-read believers, non-believers, and a few in-betweens, interested in Mormon Studies from an academic perspective. In this entry, I attempt to lay out my views on the concept of "agency" in LDS scripture.

http://www.withouten...rstood-concept/

I think that you have overcomplicated the concept. Agency (as used in the scriptures cited) simply means the freedom to choose, or make a choice, between one or more (moral) options. The scriptures make that clear: D&C 29:36: “for, behold, the devil . . . rebelled against me . . . and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency.” Satan was able to “turn away” a third of the hosts of heaven from God because of their agency. That means that if they didn’t have that “agency,” he wouldn’t have been able to "turn them away" as he did. The only way that I can understand this is that by “agency” is meant the freedom to make a choice between God and Satan. The only way that God could have denied them that “agency” would have been by denying them that choice, such as by restricting Satan from persuading them to his side. God could have done that for example by banishing Satan before he was able to accomplish that task. But God didn’t do that. Instead He allowed them to decide for themselves by allowing Satan to persuade them to join his cause if they wanted to. In some autocratic countries like China for example, information is tightly controlled and restricted. But God didn’t run His kingdom that way. He allowed Satan full sway to persuade them to his side of the argument if they preferred that option. So agency in that context means having the freedom to choose between two (moral) options by allowing that option to be presented to them. Here is another scripture which teaches the same thing: D&C 29:39: “And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; . . .” In other words, man’s “agency” consists of their ability to make a choice between two moral options by allowing that choice to be presented to them. So Satan is allowed to tempt mankind (as in the pre-existence) so they can have choice/agency. Obviously the choices we make is going to have consequences; but that is beside the point as far as the meaning of the word agency is concerned. The point of agency in the scriptures cited is that it is the freedom to make a choice, whatever the consequence of it might be.

Agency (or free agency, as it is sometimes called in LDS literature) is obviously not the same as the innate “freewill” that is inherent in any kind of intelligence. Even the birds and bees and ants have that kind of inherent ability to make choices. That is clear. I don’t think that there is a serious misunderstanding in the LDS Church about that. It is a subject that has been discussed in MDB several times, and all of this has been hashed out. In casual conversation people may sometimes use the word freewill as a substitute for agency, or free agency; but I don’t think there is a serious misunderstanding between the two. For example, people may say conversationally that Communism denies people their freedom. That does not mean that it denies them the right to decide what time to switch off their television at night. But it does deny their freedom in other (vital) ways. Thus the definition given in the 2010 Gospel Principles manual of agency to be “the right to choose between good and evil and to act for ourselves” is entirely correct. There is no valid criticism to be made of that definition.

To conclude, I think you have overcomplicated the concept of agency as taught in LDS scripture. It simply means allowing mankind the freedom to choose between two or more moral options by allowing those options to be made available to them. It means nothing more or less than that.

There is one thing I am baffled about though. At the start of your post you have quoted the following passage from the View of the Hebrews:

“In relation to the American people having a favourable agency in meliorating the condition of the Jews, as well as the tribes of Israel, it appears the thought has struck the minds of some on the eastern continent, as well as the western.”—Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, 1825.

I am puzzled by what relation this has to the subject of the discussion. I can’t connect the two.

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David Bokovoy    394

I think that you have overcomplicated the concept.

I knew you would love it.

I will be happy to address your critique later this evening.

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BCSpace    957
In sum, references to “agency” in LDS scripture (as shown via texts such as D&C 64:18) clearly refer to man acting as an agent, meaning one who is held responsible for a stewardship given to him by God. Satan sought to destroy man’s agency; an act which he argued would allow all to return, since no one would function as agents over his or her decisions. While this observation may seem like a small technicality, in reality, this more precise definition of agency carries many significant theological implications for Latter-day Saints.

Sure. The implications of being an agent (and it's contrast with giving up one's agency to someone or something else) are well-illustrated by the official LDS doctrine on the Law of Consecration elucidated here:

The stewardship is given with a deed of ownership so that individuals, through their agency, are fully responsible and accountable for that which is entrusted to them.

“Thus in both implementation and ownership and management of property, the United Order preserves to men their God-given agency, while socialism deprives them of it.

Socialism is political, both in theory and practice. It is thus exposed to, and riddled by, the corruption that plagues and finally destroys all political governments that undertake to abridge man’s agency.

President Marion G. Romney warned about the continuing imitations of the adversary: “In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency.

“I suggest we consider what has happened to our agency with respect to . . . government welfare services. . . .

When we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, might, mind, and strength, we will love our brothers as ourselves, and we will voluntarily, in the exercise of our free agency, impart of our substance for their support. . . .

Relying always on the Lord, we must become independent of the world. We must be self-reliant. Using the agency God has given us, we must work out our own economic and temporal problems. . . .

“We must maintain our own health, sow our own gardens, store our own food, educate and train ourselves to handle the daily affairs of life. No one else can work out our salvation for us, either temporally or spiritually.

President Lorenzo Snow emphasized the importance of individual agency in moving forward the work of consecration: “In things that pertain to celestial glory there can be no forced operations. We must do according as the Spirit of the Lord operates upon our understandings and feelings. We cannot be crowded into matters, however great might be the blessing attending such procedure. We cannot be forced into living a celestial law; we must do this ourselves, of our own free will. And whatever we do in regard to the principles of the United Order, we must do it because we desire to do it. Some of us are practising in the spirit of the United Order, doing more than the law of tithing requires.”

http://institute.lds.org/manuals/doctrine-and-covenants-institute-student-manual/dc-in-200-j-l-l.asp

Interesting how being an agent doctrinally requires free will. Therefore, anything that removes our free will also takes away our agency. So if we are to be agents to the poor, for example, we MUST have complete free will. It is impossible to have charity otherwise. It's apparent that one cannot separate the two just as faith and works cannot be separated.

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Maidservant    673

I think agency DOES mean that you choose which person/cause/God you will BE the AGENT of. So you will be an agent of God or an agent of the Adversary by your choice between the two (as Zerinus did well in explaining).

But agency does carry with it the idea of representation of the principal.

Otherwise there is no reason to use that word at all (speaking of English).

Edited by Maidservant

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zerinus    301

Sure. The implications of being an agent (and it's contrast with giving up one's agency to someone or something else) are well-illustrated by the official LDS doctrine on the Law of Consecration elucidated here:

Interesting how being an agent doctrinally requires free will. Therefore, anything that removes our free will also takes away our agency. So if we are to be agents to the poor, for example, we MUST have complete free will. It is impossible to have charity otherwise. It's apparent that one cannot separate the two just as faith and works cannot be separated.

The word "agent" (and hence its lexical derivative "agency") can have several different meanings. I don't know about the US, but here in the UK somebody who sells newspapers is called a "newsagent," and somebody who sells property is called an "estate agent". These multi-colored meanings should not all be incorporated into the meaning of the word "agency" as taught in LDS doctrine and scripture.

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BCSpace    957
These multi-colored meanings should not all be incorporated into the meaning of the word "agency" as taught in LDS doctrine and scripture.

Sure. I speak of it here only in terms of LDS doctrine. And there different "agencies" which we have been placed over though they do run together. For example, we are stewards of this earth and we are stewards of our own salvation (temporally and spiritually). Any loss of free will in those areas prevents us from being agents or removes our agency and we cannot be saved in any Celestial sense when that happens.

Agency IS free will in LDS doctrine contrary to the OP:

Agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation. Without agency, we would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).

https://www.lds.org/topics/agency?lang=eng

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theplains    129

... In this entry, I attempt to lay out my views on the concept of "agency" in LDS scripture.

http://www.withouten...rstood-concept/

I have a question about this quote of yours:

"The same revelation from 1830 goes on to state that without temptations to break God’s commandments, men and

women “cannot be agents unto themselves” (v. 39). Clearly, in LDS theology, being an “agent,” and by extension

exercising “agency,” involves much more than simply an ability to make choices".

Besides choosing between Satan or Christ in the plan to save mankind, what other evil choices were there to be

made in their "celestial home" when they did not choose the good? Or did the spirit children only have agency to

make this one choice between good and evil and agency did not exist before?

Thanks,

Jim

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David Bokovoy    394
I think that you have overcomplicated the concept.

Admittedly, abandoning long-held misconceptions can at first be a complicated affair. I believe that in this case, it is well worth the effort.

Let’s begin here:.

“In relation to the American people having a favourable agency in meliorating the condition of the Jews, as well as the tribes of Israel, it appears the thought has struck the minds of some on the eastern continent, as well as the western.”—Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, 1825.

I am puzzled by what relation this has to the subject of the discussion. I can’t connect the two

Words have meaning, meaning which is established through internal and historical contexts. As a 19th century American religious work, the quote I provided illustrates the way that the term “agency” was being used in the Zeitgeist of the prophet Joseph Smith.

The quote illustrates that the fundamental meaning of the word “agency” in the 19th century (when Joseph received his revelation) was not “an ability to make choices,” but rather, “the quality of moving or of exerting power.”; again, see Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language.

What you don’t seem to have quite captured is the notion that though freewill is an important part of agency, agency is not freewill. That’s simply not what the word means.

To provide a somewhat crude analogy from my own world, a wave is an important part of surfing, but that does not mean that a wave IS surfing. By analogy, an ability to make choices is an important part of agency, but that does not mean an ability to make choices IS agency.

As I illustrated, the scriptural concept of moral agency simply means that one serves as an agent over the choices one makes. With this in mind, it becomes clear that no outside force, whether another individual, a government institution, or even your own choices can even limit, let alone take away your agency. While each of these things can and do limit my ability to make decisions, I always have agency, even if I’m gagged, blindfolded, and thrown in prison. This type of circumstance would obviously limit both the amount and types of choices I could make, but it would not take away my agency. I would still be a steward over my own thoughts and the decisions I made on how to react to my imprisonment.

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mfbukowski    12,365

David

In your article, this sentence appears:

While in LDS scripture the concept of agency certainly includes an ability to make decisions, in reality, agency clearly does not mean “freewill.”

What I am questioning is what you mean by "in reality" in the above sentence?

For those unfamiliar with these issues, Madison's concepts in the Federalist Papers were seen as incompatible with the Bill of Rights which used a different conception of liberty.

Just trying to get to the bottom line here- straight up, this looks like a rationale for a more liberal political agenda than many LDS are comfortable with.

I'm just a bit touchy about some comments you are alleged to have made elsewhere I guess, since I personally have made a transition in my own politics from a position probably similar to yours to what would be called I suppose "conservativism"

I am interested in how any conception of liberty is "in reality" more accurate than another and was wondering how you would justify that based on your interpretation of some statements Joseph made.

Edit: By the way I am in the process of working on a paper on the philosophy of Richard Rorty and how his error in a similar position resulted in his extreme liberalism in his book "Contigency Irony and Solidarity"

http://www.amazon.com/Contingency-Irony-Solidarity-Richard-Rorty/dp/0521367816

Edited by mfbukowski

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David Bokovoy    394

I have a question about this quote of yours:

"The same revelation from 1830 goes on to state that without temptations to break God’s commandments, men and

women “cannot be agents unto themselves” (v. 39). Clearly, in LDS theology, being an “agent,” and by extension

exercising “agency,” involves much more than simply an ability to make choices".

Besides choosing between Satan or Christ in the plan to save mankind, what other evil choices were there to be

made in their "celestial home" when they did not choose the good? Or did the spirit children only have agency to

make this one choice between good and evil and agency did not exist before?

Thanks,

Jim

Councils, in the plural, were held in the premortal existence; not simply one. Abraham 3 illustrates that as a result of agency in the premortal existence, there existed various levels of spirits who had achieved various levels of spiritual advancement. Latter-day Saints have considerable examples of prophetic commentary to support this assertion. Spiritual gradation was reached in accordance with the principal of agency, as the sons and daughters of God made various choices reflecting greater or lesser degrees of righteousness. I suspect that just like in this existence, that each of us made hundreds of choices every single day.

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David Bokovoy    394
Just trying to get to the bottom line here- straight up, this looks like a rationale for a more liberal political agenda than many LDS are comfortable with...

I'm just a bit touchy about some comments you are alleged to have made elsewhere I guess, since I personally have made a transition in my own politics from a position probably similar to yours to what would be called I suppose "conservativism"

While I admit that this more exact definition of the word "agency" does correct certain problematic views some well-meaning Latter-day Saints have embraced when they have mixed the philosophies of men with scripture, I can assure you that this is a theological issue, not a political agenda. Speaking personally, I myself am a Zionist. Contrary to what many have supposed, I have no specific allegiances whatsoever in terms of US politics. The term that probably best sums up my personal position is theodemocratic, which puts me at odds with pretty much everyone.

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mfbukowski    12,365

As a followup on my previous question for David, the idea that we can be and are moral agents and therefore responsible for our actions already presupposes that we are indeed free to make decisions in a sense that implies "free will".

So I guess what I am saying is yes, of course "agency" obviously carries with it the idea that we are moral agents, but on the other hand we cannot be moral agents without free will- the raw ability to decide to do something rather than nothing.

Your idea of "agency" includes the ability to be a "bad agent" - which is the power of making choices. So I am not sure I guess where you are going with your thesis.

"LDS theology includes the idea of being a moral agent"- ok but therefore what? Where are you going with this?

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David Bokovoy    394

As a followup on my previous question for David, the idea that we can be and are moral agents and therefore responsible for our actions already presupposes that we are indeed free to make decisions in a sense that implies "free will".

Again, I'm not suggesting that free will is not an important part of agency, but that does not mean that agency is freewill. A wave exists as an important part of surfing; this doesn't make surfing a wave.

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mfbukowski    12,365

While I admit that this more exact definition of the word "agency" does correct certain problematic views some well-meaning Latter-day Saints have embraced when they have mixed the philosophies of men with scripture, I can assure you that this is a theological issue, not a political agenda. Speaking personally, I myself am a Zionist. Contrary to what many have supposed, I have no specific allegiances whatsoever in terms of US politics. The term that probably best sums up my personal position is theodemocratic, which puts me at odds with pretty much everyone.

I understand that, I think, and since I figured that out, that is why I have not opposed comments you have made here and elsewhere which some have taken politically.

I think clearly we all should be "Zionists" in this sense, including the most politically conservative among us.

I guess I just want to take this article a bit farther and ask - ok, LDS doctrine often defines freedom in terms of agency, but where does that take us?

And of course I am sure you are not saying that theology does not include philosophical presumptions- are you? We cannot escape the "philosophies of men" in my opinion.

Open your mouth and interpret anything and you are instantly in the realm of "philosophies of men".

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mfbukowski    12,365

Again, I'm not suggesting that free will is not an important part of agency, but that does not mean that agency is freewill. A wave exists as an important part of surfing; this doesn't make surfing a wave.

And with that, I would agree wholeheartedly. So you are just pointing out that we often confuse the two, right?

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CASteinman    573

An interesting article. It is possible that agency is misunderstood. I would say I did not have EXACTLY the view taken by this article.. and perhaps that means I misunderstand things. I have not felt that agency is the same thing as free will, but I do think agency rests upon free will -- so it is possible to wonder if this article is making a difference without a significant distinction.

I don't think so. I think that the analysis of what satan was trying to do is interesting and not exactly as I have heard it before. It makes some sense. My one reservation is that it seems very convenient to think this way in modern times. Is that what was meant in the past? I don't want to make a presentism error.

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mfbukowski    12,365

While each of these things can and do limit my ability to make decisions, I always have agency, even if I’m gagged, blindfolded, and thrown in prison. This type of circumstance would obviously limit both the amount and types of choices I could make, but it would not take away my agency. I would still be a steward over my own thoughts and the decisions I made on how to react to my imprisonment.

From the article:

Agency refers to the act of being an agent; and the term “agent” in the 19th century, when Joseph was producing his scriptural texts, referred to “one that exerts power, or has the power to act,” and therefore, be held accountable for the consequences of his or her stewardship.

I just wonder if the two comments above are incompatible; it is hard to imagine how one can be an "agent" and "exert power" if indeed one has no power to exert.

Legally, it would be difficult to imagine how one could still be called an "agent" in a business sense if that individual was incapacitated. In fact, in business, such contingencies are often handled contractually before the agency relationship begins and the agency would be automatically terminated in the case of incapacity.

I am just trying to get to the bottom line here- I don't want to be a pain, but just explore fully why you see these distinctions are important to make.

I wonder why it would be important to use the word "agent" in a case where one was incapacitated in some way- why not just say that one could still make a "moral choice" about his situation.

Edited by mfbukowski

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volgadon    4,511
Open your mouth and interpret anything and you are instantly in the realm of "philosophies of men".

I apologise for the thread derail, if it gets too distracting and OT, I'll take it somewhere else.

To me, the phrase seems an "us and them" thing. Not to sound flippant, but is like saying WE interpret scripture, THEY mingle it with the philosophies of men.

Edited by volgadon

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mfbukowski    12,365

I apologise for the thread derail, if it gets too distracting and OT, I'll take it somewhere else.

To me, the phrase seems an "us and them" thing. Not to sound flippant, but is like saying WE interpret scripture, THEY mingle it with the philosophies of men.

I think it probably is a derail so I will post this and shut up and let David decide if he wants to take it in that direction.

http://plato.stanfor...s/hermeneutics/

With the emergence of German romanticism and idealism the status of hermeneutics changes. Hermeneutics turns philosophical. It is no longer conceived as a methodological or didactic aid for other disciplines, but turns to the conditions of possibility for symbolic communication as such. The question “How to read?” is replaced by the question, “How do we communicate at all?” Without such a shift, initiated by Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, and others, it is impossible to envisage the ontological turn in hermeneutics that, in the mid-1920s, was triggered by Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit and carried on by his student Hans-Georg Gadamer. Now hermeneutics is not only about symbolic communication. Its area is even more fundamental: that of human life and existence as such. It is in this form, as an interrogation into the deepest conditions for symbolic interaction and culture in general, that hermeneutics has provided the critical horizon for many of the most intriguing discussions of contemporary philosophy, both within an Anglo-American context (Rorty, McDowell, Davidson) and within a more Continental discourse (Habermas, Apel, Ricoeur, and Derrida).
Edited by mfbukowski

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supersnail    74

If I understood this correctly, one of the implications is that Satan was not proposing to deny free will, but to deprive us of agency (which involves free will, but is not identical to it) and thus a means of salvation and/or exaltation. Without agency, we might still be able to choose between different things, but their statuses as good or bad in some sense might be lost, or there may be a lack of obligation, ownership, or mandate. I did not read this as an invitation to what is called "social progress," which is not necessarily liberal in the sense that word is usually used today. I had trouble figuring out the precise meaning of "stewardship" in this article, though.

Edited by supersnail

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volgadon    4,511

David, I'm glad you've posted your thoughts on agency in a more expansive form. I've enjoyed your brief comments on it which you've made from time to time, so this is great.

I never got round to typing it up, but there seems a connection between Alma 32 and a certain trend in the Jewish interpretation of Exodus 24:7, where "We will do and obey" is taken to mean, we will do, then we will hear. That is, they undertook to accept the covenant (by acting upon whatever commandments would be given), rather than having the commandments explained before signing on the dotted line, so to speak. Other nations were offered the covenant, but they insisted upon being told the conditions, subsequently rejecting the offer In other words, there is a choice given, but the worthy response is via deeds.

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mfbukowski    12,365

If I understood this correctly, one of the implications is that Satan was not proposing to deny free will, but to deprive us of agency (which involves free will, but is not identical to it) and thus a means of salvation and/or exaltation. Without agency, we might still be able to choose between different things, but their statuses as good or bad in some sense might be lost, or there may be a lack of obligation or ownership. I did not read this as an invitation to what is called "social progress," which is not necessarily liberal in the sense that word is usually used today. I had trouble figuring out the precise meaning of "stewardship" in this article, though.

I think that moral choice doesn't have much to do with stewardship or agency since stewards can make moral or immoral decisions regardless of their agency. The distinction is not clear to me, nor is it clear why we need to make that distinction. Perhaps I am just being dense. I am hoping for clarification.

Edited by mfbukowski

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zerinus    301

Admittedly, abandoning long-held misconceptions can at first be a complicated affair. I believe that in this case, it is well worth the effort.

Let’s begin here:.

Words have meaning, meaning which is established through internal and historical contexts. As a 19th century American religious work, the quote I provided illustrates the way that the term “agency” was being used in the Zeitgeist of the prophet Joseph Smith.

The quote illustrates that the fundamental meaning of the word “agency” in the 19th century (when Joseph received his revelation) was not “an ability to make choices,” but rather, “the quality of moving or of exerting power.”; again, see Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language.

What you don’t seem to have quite captured is the notion that though freewill is an important part of agency, agency is not freewill. That’s simply not what the word means.

To provide a somewhat crude analogy from my own world, a wave is an important part of surfing, but that does not mean that a wave IS surfing. By analogy, an ability to make choices is an important part of agency, but that does not mean an ability to make choices IS agency.

As I illustrated, the scriptural concept of moral agency simply means that one serves as an agent over the choices one makes. With this in mind, it becomes clear that no outside force, whether another individual, a government institution, or even your own choices can even limit, let alone take away your agency. While each of these things can and do limit my ability to make decisions, I always have agency, even if I’m gagged, blindfolded, and thrown in prison. This type of circumstance would obviously limit both the amount and types of choices I could make, but it would not take away my agency. I would still be a steward over my own thoughts and the decisions I made on how to react to my imprisonment.

Sorry David, but your post makes no sense as a response to what I had written.

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